On a gloomy morning around thirty members assembled in the car park and because of the number split into two groups that circled the reserve in opposite directions. As the tide was low waders were spread thinly across the harbour mud. Small numbers of curlews, redshank, ringed and grey plover were noted while distantly in the far channel a pair of red-breasted mergansers and the first of many pintails and shelduck could be identified. An early highlight was provided by a peregrine that settled on the mud allowing good views. The main lake held numerous Brent geese, lapwings, black-tailed godwits and a dozen avocets while a single roosting snipe was almost invisible in the reeds. Two bearded tits were also seen skulking at the bottom of the reeds but offered only intermittent views. The early part of the circuit produced a spectacular moment as a sparrowhawk sped across the marsh clutching an unfortunate starling. A couple of stonechats posed on the vegetation but it was not until the approach to the Deeps that more significant numbers of passerines were found including a few greenfinches and goldfinches accompanied by a small flock of linnets. On the harbour the rising tide was bringing waders closer to the shore particularly hundreds of dunlins strung out along the shoreline where a few turnstones could also be seen. In the channel several more red-breasted mergansers appeared in the company of great crested grebes, both species repeatedly diving to enjoy the bounty the tide was bringing within reach. The Deeps were rather quiet holding a few shovelers while the fields behind were being grazed by numerous wigeon, Canada geese and many more Brent geese. Interspersed among them were more curlews and black-tailed godwits. A long-staying barnacle goose was seen in the meadow close to a farmyard goose with which it reportedly has a committed relationship! The area by the information hut held few birds but provided new sightings with three little grebes, a wren, a kingfisher and a Cetti’s warbler while on the walk back across the marsh two common gulls were seen. The return visit to the main lake was rewarded by much larger numbers of species embarking on their high tide roost included three greenshanks as well as many more redshanks and avocets. A successful day produced a species list of 53.
Nine members met under a clear blue sky to walk around Farlington Marsh on land reclaimed in the 1700s. Though the tide was low we headed for the lake to try for bearded reedlings at their most active. The strategy paid off as we enjoyed good views of five swaying at the top of the tall reeds, the soft browns and blues highlighted in the sunshine. Formerly called bearded tits the reedling is actually a sister to the larks. A water rail located at the back of the lake and threading its way stealthily through the reeds was another great sighting. Loud bursts of song came from a nearby Cetti’s warbler hidden in the rushes.
We then took the path diagonally through the western corner of the reserve and by one of the water-filled bomb craters (the area was used to burn fires during World War II to decoy bombers away from nearby Portsmouth) we found an active collection of blackcaps, Cetti’s warblers and chiffchaffs. A sparrowhawk glided over our heads. Approaching the Deeps we saw many little egrets, at which point an eagle-eyed member saw the head of a glossy ibis and focused us on the area. After a minute’s anticipation we saw a purple head, then a long curved beak and a few minutes later the whole bird as it climbed out of a ditch on to he bank. The dark purple colour stood out in the bright sun. A peregrine flew over high and straight, the bulky body, tapered wings and continuous flight contrasting with the earlier sparrowhawk.
Having finished the circumnavigation of the reserve, we returned to the main lake before high tide. As well as the usual waders and ducks we were aware that a curlew sandpiper had been reported. Trying to locate it among the 20+ dunlins that were running round the legs of black-tailed godwits and a few ringed plovers proved very difficult. However we eventually succeeded in finding the target bird despite the marginal differences in size, bill length and shape from the dunlins but fortunately the good light enabled us to note the peachy wash of a juvenile as well as its slightly longer legs and different running style.
The walk proved both enjoyable and productive with 47 species identified, with some scarce birds seen in excellent viewing conditions.
Despite a poor forecast of heavy showers and strong winds some enthusiastic newcomers to the group prevailed upon the pessimistic veterans to go ahead with the walk; there was no doubt at the end which group were right! Although we endured a couple of short drenchings in the open the periods of dry permitted some excellent birding. On the walk to the sea wall we noted several passerine species including greenfinches, meadow pipits, whitethroats and linnets as well as the unmistakeable shouting of the first of many Cetti’s warblers. The low tide mud of the harbour was largely clear of birds apart from numerous gulls while the lake held a few ducks including gadwalls and shelducks. On the edges a couple of redshanks prowled while two common terns appeared briefly. Over the marsh numerous swifts and swallows swirled and remained our companions for the entire walk. Scanning of the marshes showed numerous nesting lapwings vigorously protecting their nests and at least five families of Canada geese with goslings. Among them at a considerable distance was a Russian single white-fronted goose, a late-lingering juvenile that had been hanging around for several days. As we reached the south of the reserve a peregrine falcon passed over us and waders began to appear, oystercatchers at first and then the odd curlew. Then the rising tide brought dozens of mobile dunlins and a great crested grebe into view while skylarks sang behind us. On the east side the filling of the channel brought a greater variety of waders closer to us although in small numbers including ringed plovers, a whimbrel, turnstones and two bar-tailed godwits while on the marsh we saw a single barnacle goose. Then we spotted a flock of grey plovers two of which were in stunning breeding plumage. The pools by the information hut produced several additional sightings including four Mediterranean gulls, little egrets, a little grebe and an avocet, the first of six that we saw. A bearded tit pinged in the reeds close to us but unsurprisingly failed to show. The consensus was that the walk with its species list of 56 had been thoroughly worthwhile.